Stepping out of his comfort zone

to compete for and secure resources like transportation, meeting and hotel rooms, ... You will also be involved in the administration and implementati...

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SATURDAY, APRIL 12, 2014

Stepping out of his comfort zone Former flight steward Philip Paul Peters relishes the challenges of being a diplomat

by teo kuan yee AFTER he was unsuccessful in his job application to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) as a foreign service officer (FSO) in 2003, Mr Philip Paul Peters — who holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) in political science — worked as an air steward. Five years ago, he took a second shot at joining MFA and succeeded. Mr Peters, who is now Deputy High Commissioner and First Secretary (Administration and Consular) at the Singapore High Commission in Pretoria in South Africa, recalls: “I was quite disappointed back then, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise

because, looking back, I don’t think I had the maturity to handle the challenges that are unique to MFA.” He started his career in MFA as protocol officer in charge of logistics and protocol arrangements ranging from seating plans to motorcades. One particularly memorable assignment was the Prime Minister’s visit to Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009 for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. To cater to more than 100 heads of state and government attending the event, Mr Peters and his team worked extremely hard to compete for and secure resources like transportation, meeting and hotel rooms, restaurants and access passes for the delegation.

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“We had to be resourceful, creative and assertive to get what we needed. It was quite an intimidating experience for a six-month-old greenhorn but it gave me a taste of what is to be expected of a FSO,” recalls Mr Peters. While most people think that his degree in political science would help him in his career as a FSO, he begs to differ. “What I found most helpful for my role were the soft skills and confidence I acquired as a flight steward. While the two jobs appear to be worlds apart, these attributes have helped me adapt to the work challenges and overseas working environment,” he explains. Prior to his current posting in January 2012, he often travelled overseas for both training and operational purposes. In 2009, he visited Hanoi for a training trip. In 2010, he was coincidentally sent to Pretoria to be exposed to the workings of an overseas Mission. The diplomatic community in Pretoria is the second largest in the world outside Washington DC. “As a representative of Singapore in a foreign country, I feel responsible for giving others a positive impression of our country. This sense of responsibility has encouraged me to improve on my knowledge of Singapore and the way I carry myself in public,” he says.

Helping overseas Singaporeans The Singapore High Commission in Pretoria is a small outfit comprising five staff from Singapore and six from South Africa. Mr Peters’ team is tasked with maintaining and improving relations between Singapore and South Africa, and providing consular assistance to Singaporeans in distress in the region. Describing his job scope as “very diverse and wide ranging”, Mr Peters oversees the High Commission’s operations such as its human resource, property maintenance and finances. He also organises events such as the annual National Day Reception and manage visits by delegations from Singapore.

As a representative of Singapore in a foreign country, I feel responsible for giving others a positive impression of our country. This sense of responsibility has encouraged me to improve on my knowledge of Singapore and the way I carry myself in public — Mr Philip Paul Peters (above), Deputy High Commissioner and First Secretary (Administration and Consular), MFA

When former president Nelson Mandela passed away in December last year, Mr Peters and his team undertook the logistical arrangements for the visiting delegation attending the State Funeral — all within a short notice. They had to grapple with inevitable changes arising from dynamic circumstances. Occasionally, he hosts or attends lunches with his counterparts to network and discuss issues, and spends evenings and weekends at official functions such as National Day receptions or Asean events, which are good networking opportunities. He is also on standby 24/7 to assist Singaporeans who require urgent consular assistance. For instance, there had been several cases of Singaporeans being robbed of their passports in South and southern Africa. The challenge lies in providing them the necessary assurances to calm them down and managing their expectations. The staff at the High Commission is a close-knit one, and often meets together with their families, for meals or braais (Afrikaans for barbecue). “My personal growth and development is supported by my immediate supervisor, High Commissioner Bernard Baker, who is both encouraging yet firm with his staff. The positive tone that he has set for the office has resulted in a harmonious and supportive working environment,” says Mr Peters. On what it takes to work in MFA, he says: “You need maturity and fortitude to survive in MFA but initiative, resourcefulness, adaptability, self-awareness and self-confidence to excel. “If you enjoy challenges, being pushed to the limit and being taken out of your comfort zone, I would strongly encourage you to join us in the foreign service.”